The Greer Family in The Third American Revolution, 1949-1970

Pitt students including Fracine Outen (later Greer) metting with Mialona Keranga.png

University of Pittsburg students including Fracine Outen later Greer (far left middle) metting with Mialona Keranga.

The third American Revolution, 1949-1970

“We have to build our own power. We have to win every single political office we can, where we have a majority of black people… The question for black people is not, when is the white man going to give us our rights, or when is he going to give us good education for our children, or when is he going to give us jobs—if the white man gives you anything—just remember when he gets ready he will take it right back. We have to take for ourselves.”

―A black man attempting to register to vote in Selma, Alabama, c. 1964[1]

Black power means black dignity. Just as surely as you’re proud to be white, we’re proud to be black. Black is beautiful, baby; it’s pretty. I always say to my brothers, I say baby, don’t worry about the white chicks. We got everything from chalk to charcoal in our own race.

Black is beautiful. Black is beautiful. Black power means dignity. It means we got to walk side by side with you, or through you. We got to be with dignity and integrity. We don’t want any more than you have and I’m going to accept any less than you have. That’s Black power.

Adam Clayton Powell, 1968

By the 1960’s America was on the brink of revolution. Vietnam was unpopular, the Civil Rights movement was in its zenith, and Black Power was on the rise. Arthur was working at Voorhees College in Denmark South Carolina. Arthur W. Outen Jr. and Hazel would open their doors to activist like Stokely Carmichael, Julian Bond, Cleveland L. “CL” Sellers, and many more young activists. Allowing these young civil rights leaders to meet in their home put the Outen family in danger.  Because Arthur worked on and lived on the college campus Voorhees students would babysit his young daughter Francine. When Francine was just seven years old, she would get her first taste of the movement. The sister of CL Sellers took Francine to a sit-in in downtown Columbia. Arthur and Hazel picked their daughter up and took her home so she would not be hurt.

In 1963 Arthur was offered a job teaching in the Pittsburg Public School system and he and the family joined the thousands of black migrants leaving the south. Unlike most migrants the Outens knew the place they were going to and Hazel originally had done a reverse migration moving south when the majority of blacks were moving north.

Francine would grow up in the Pittsburgh and be influenced by the Black Power movement. Francine would attend the University of Pittsburg. In May of 1968, Francine and fellow African American students at Pitt formed the Black Action Society (BAS). They sought to address the needs of black students at the school. The BAS demanded:

  • Pitt discontinue their quota system and actively recruit and admit black students into the University.
  • African Americans in the history must be incorporated, implemented, and taught in the curriculum of the University.
  • The number of black faculty members greatly increased.
  • A Black Studies Program be created at Pitt and be taught by qualified black scholars.

Francine was one of the founders of the BAS. Maulana Karenga and many other noted black power advocates came to speak and encouraged the students. One of her fellow organizers was a very popular and boisterous student from Chicago, Marvin Greer. Francine, Marvin, and the members of the BAS were furious about the quota system Pitt had introduced there were fewer than 30 Black students at Pitt in 1965.[2] Francine and her roommate Elizabeth Bebe Moore created the first black publication produced by Pitt students called As-salamu alaykum. They promoted poems, short stories, and artistic work by black people throughout the city of Pittsburg. One aspiring writer who submitted work was the young playwright August Wilson, whose work was almost excluded, had it not been for the intersession of a friend of his who was on the editorial board.  Elizabeth would go on to become a New York Times bestseller for her books Brothers and Sisters, Singing in the Comeback Choir, and What You Owe Me. Elizabeth is known more commonly as Bebe Moore Campbell. She was also a columnist for The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Essence, Ebony, Black Enterprise, as well as other publications. With her notoriety she advocate for racial and gender equality and mental health.

In January of 1968, with the University ignoring the black students and not taking their demands seriously, a group of 48 unarmed BAS members including Francine, Marvin, Bebe, and Marvin’s best friend Joeseph McCormick ran into the Cathedral of Learning technology room, took it over, and locked themselves inside. The BAS again presented the list of demands to the university and its President, Wesley Posvar, and insisted the demands be met. After a daylong sit in the university agreed to the demands and Pitt officially recognized the BAS as a sanctioned school organization.[3]

The Outens encouraged their daughter and her friends to be active. Arthur described his daughter as “The Angela Davis of the East”, for her activism and aesthetic. Because Francine was caught up in the Black Power movement she fell behind in her studies and it extended her academic stay at Pitt for a number of years, unlike her father who had graduated in three years with six majors. She eventually graduated and moved to California to be with her best friend Bebe. Marvin would follow her out there and they were married in 1977.

Image Source: Greer Family Collection

[1] Juan Williams, Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965 (New York: Viking Penguin, Inc., 1987), 254.

[2] Marvin Greer. Interview by author. Personal interview. Atlanta, GA: (February 2014)

[3] Marvin Greer interview

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